Many a delicate negotiation has been thrown off-course by an angry word or careless insult. So parties in conflict--particularly at the peace table--should set all emotion aside, right?

Wrong, says psychologist Daniel Shapiro, PhD. Although the conflict-resolution field has traditionally emphasized the "rational," psychology teaches us that it's simply not possible to remove all emotion from these encounters, says Shapiro, founder of the International Negotiation Initiative (INI), a multidisciplinary organization under the auspices of Harvard Law School's Negotiation Project.

The initiative--affiliated with the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital--uses psychological principles to conduct research and assist organizations and leaders around the world with conflict resolution. INI advises everyone from the International Criminal Court to state leaders in the Middle East, South America, China and Eastern Europe.

Psychology is increasingly critical to global security, Shapiro notes, as current conflicts are often driven by non-state actors and based on issues such as ethnicity or religion. "While the Cold War was resolved largely by a political handshake," he observes, "a more sophisticated psychological approach to reconciliation is desperately needed in hotspots like Bosnia, the Middle East and Uganda."

Shapiro's research illuminates five core concerns that come up over and over in negotiations. In the book "Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate," he and INI senior adviser Roger Fisher describe how to use these core concerns to stimulate positive emotions and cooperation in a conflict, whether between family members or state leaders. The core concerns are:

  • Appreciation: Do parties feel heard and valued even if they disagree?

  • Affiliation: Are the participants working as adversaries or colleagues?

  • Autonomy: Do participants feel that they have freedom to make decisions without outside coercion?

  • Status: Do the parties respect each others' knowledge and expertise?

  • Role: Does each participant play a meaningful part in the negotiation?

Shapiro is now working with the U.S. Army on defusing everyday encounters in Iraq--specifically security checkpoint interactions. The Army requested INI's assistance, realizing that the ways soldiers interact with Iraqi civilians can inadvertently influence the conflict and world events. Currently they are working on a digital storytelling device that will guide soldiers through a heated encounter between a soldier at a security checkpoint and an Iraqi tribal leader or "sheikh" who believes he shouldn't need to provide proof of his identity because of his important status.

Shapiro is also collaborating on a policy paper that argues that any approach to a more secure Iraq will have to take into account the emotional and identity-based tensions.

INI's work might make it common to see psychologists working hand-in-hand with policy-makers, says psychologist Kimberly Leary, PhD, an INI faculty affiliate.

The effort is "trying to help leaders and policy-makers expand who they call upon for advice in policy negotiations."

Further Reading

For more information on INI, visit www.pon.harvard.edu/hnp/ini.